Last Updated on April 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 623
The Outsiders is told from the first-person perspective of Ponyboy Curtis. At the end of the novel, the reader realizes that this is the English theme Ponyboy is submitting to Mr. Syme. While Ponyboy writes very well, he also honors the speech pattern of the greasers in the dialogue and explains things that he assumes his English teacher (and the reader) will be unfamiliar with, such as the terms greaser and Soc. We can assume that Ponyboy is a reliable narrator, and he generally only shares what he experienced firsthand. Ponyboy uses illustrative memories to demonstrate why a character is the way that he is, such as when Ponyboy shares Johnny’s abuse at the hands of the Socs. He relies on his firsthand experience of what it was like when the gang found Johnny, what Johnny shared with the gang, and his past interactions with characters for understanding who someone is. While Ponyboy shares what he thinks and feels during the novel, there are instances that it is clear his thoughts and feelings have changed, such as learning that he was wrong about Darry’s love for him.
Although the name of Ponyboy’s town is never explicitly stated, it’s likely the novel is set in Oklahoma, maybe Tulsa, around 1965. While the majority of the novel takes place in a somewhat urban setting, there are references to being near rural areas, such as Dally’s working at the rodeo. We can also assume the town is close to Texas, because Dally tells Johnny and Ponyboy that the authorities think that they headed to Texas after Johnny kills Bob. We might think that this town is Tulsa because the author, S. E. Hinton, based the novel on her teenage experiences growing up in Tulsa and being friends with greasers. The blue Mustang, symbolic of the Socs’ wealth, came out in 1964, which means that the novel needs to take place after its release. Still, the vagueness of the setting makes the novel more accessible and focuses the reader’s attention on the plot and characters.
The majority of the novel takes place over a few weeks, which means that Ponyboy has to grow up quickly over the course of the novel. The plot progresses linearly, although some events are given much more detail. The events leading up to Johnny killing Bob covers a few chapters, although it was only a few hours in the novel. In contrast, the time that Johnny and Ponyboy spend in the church is only about a chapter and a half, even though they spent a few days there.
A few major allusions and symbols include the novel Gone with the Wind, a Robert Frost poem, and sunrises and sunsets. Johnny first remembers that Ponyboy wanted to read Gone with the Wind, and it becomes a novel that Johnny treasures and then gives to Ponyboy. It is one of the main vehicles for connecting the theme of honor among the lawless to the greasers, since Johnny compares the Southern gentlemen to Dally. This forces Ponyboy and the reader to reevaluate what they think of Dally. Sunsets and sunrises represent beautiful but transitory parts of the day, which emphasize Ponyboy’s own transition to growing up. It is after watching a sunrise that Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” The poem functions as a symbol of innocence and of goodness, bringing together the elements of social class and honor. The sunset, which Cherry and Ponyboy both enjoy and can see from their respective sides of town, is symbolic of something that can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of social status and reminds readers that we are not as different from each other as we may believe.